Day By Day at the Whistler Film Festival with WIFTV Whistler Film Festival Film Market Preparation Mentorship Recipient, Shannon Walsh

Shannon Walsh is not only the recipient of the 2017 WIFTV Whistler Film Festival Film Market Preparation Mentorship but she was also one of eight directors chosen for the Women in the Director’s Chair (WIDC) script development and directing mentorship program, Story & Leadership. Both opportunities were in collaboration with Whistler Film Festival and included participation at the festival.

Here is what Shannon had to say…

I had no idea what to expect at the Whistler Film Festival – I’d heard it might be something of a Sundance Lab of the north, and that felt like a good description. Nestled in the snow and the beauty of the mountains, it was an absolute treat to pitch my script and meet a ton of new people along the way.

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Shannon Walsh with her mentor Robyn Wiener (left)

My WIFTV mentor, Robyn Wiener, and I sat down in Vancouver a few weeks before the festival and had a great lunch getting to know each other. With all that is happening in the industry right now around women, sharing stories of some of the uglier parts of the film industry, it was so good to connect and feel the importance of female mentorship. Mentorship offers support without an agenda, meant to lift us up so all of us can be better together. That kind of community-building spirit is so important to me and it was such a key component of being part of this mentorship opportunity.

After meeting up, I sent Robyn the materials for my film “Unidentified Minor”. It was really great that Robyn took the time to read the script I sent her and give me detailed feedback. I was really pleased with her enthusiasm, and it made the project feel that much more doable. She had lots of comments and insights to share around the story and the potential she saw in the project.

Day one at the Whistler Film Festival got off to a great start. The morning was filled with a WIDC roundtable and one-on-one meetings with Mehernaz Lentin from CBC, which was exciting and inspiring. After that, we met with all the other Talent Labs from the festival and had the rather nerve-wracking opportunity to pitch our work to the room! After lunch with CBC and the WIDC cohort, I returned to the Conference Centre to meet up with Robyn as soon as she arrived at registration. The centre was abuzz, and we took the opportunity to grab some photos, and to catch up.

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Shannon Walsh (middle) with Pamela Jones (left) and Carolyn Combs (right)

After bags were dropped and sorted, I met up with Robyn in the evening and we had dinner, where I shared with her what I’d been doing the last few weeks as part of the WIDC “Story and Leadership” lab. We met up with a few other women in the industry there, before heading to the evening festivities at the Grill & Vine at the Westin. Robyn introduced me to a range of people at the party, and I quickly found my way through some new, and some familiar, faces. Already we were off to a good start, as the chilled out and open vibe at Whistler made it easy to mingle and meet people.

Day two started with a very early breakfast and one-on-one meetings with Lauren Davis from Telefilm in the Maury Young Arts Centre. My next meeting was cancelled, so I slid over through the mix of rain and snow to the Conference Centre for the next few hours of meetings with the WIDC script editor and acting coach. Then straight from there to the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre for the Whistler Film Fest’s “Got Talent” Luncheon, which brought together groups from all the Talent Labs happening at the festival. This was an awesome lunch; there was so much talent in the beautiful space. Robyn introduced me to a number of people at the lunch, including some of the “Stars to Watch,” like Julia Sarah Stone, and I had the chance to have a great chat with her.

Robyn and I walked back to the Maury Young Arts Centre, chatting about the film and possible connections along the way. That evening we went to the Apres Networking event at the Grill & Vine, another great opportunity to pitch the film and meet new people. I attended films in the evening and supported some of the local talent to watch on the big screen!

Day three was an early morning once again, with scheduled meetings with WIDC mentors and the Harold Greenberg fund, as well as a group lunch. Between films, watching pitches, panels, and meetings, I caught some parties, and celebrated awards given out at the Apres Networking sessions. Another day filled with great new contacts and energy about pushing the project forward.

Shannon4Day four and the “Women on Top breakfast and Keynote” was a stunning way to round off the festival. Inspiring talks and again new contacts and discussions with some incredible women who are leaders in the field. I left feeling like I had renewed energy and connections. Back down on solid ground, I caught up with Robyn about the events of the last few days, and again attended panels and a number of films, soaking in all the inspiration I could.

Shannon3The final day on Sunday started with early breakfast and a few hours of industry immersion meetings with WIDC, before supporting some of my own students with work in the BC Short Student work segment, and listening to the stunning panel on Screenwriting hosted by Variety. Then films, films, films! Taking in as much as I could as the day sped by!

Each day held such a range of connections, inspiration, and networking, and it will take me some serious time to process it all. I’m thankful to Robyn and to the many women who have paved the way for folks like me to come up in this industry. It was a truly transformative experience and one that I believe has sparked just the beginning of my relationship with the film industry in Vancouver! Many thanks!

Shannon Walsh

Find out more about WIFTV mentorship opportunities here.

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From Our Dark Side Winner, Melanie Jones Shares her Thoughts on Frontières 2017

My thoughts on Frontières …
 
Attending Frontières is one of the most rewarding experiences of my film career so far. When I applied for the From Our Dark Side Competition, I knew that we would be able to attend Frontières as guests to observe and learn. Shortly before we left for the event, myself and the other winners were told that we had been invited to actually pitch our projects, LIVE, to a panel of industry professionals and a room full of producers, distributors and financiers attending the market. We also received official placement in the market guide. Seeing the other live pitches was essentially a master class in pitching: Frontières is a competitive market – filmmakers from all over the world submit and only 20 projects are chosen to pitch to a live audience of industry professionals. This year for the first time, the festival directors added a “Directed By Women” section and we were the first group to participate. To have ourselves and our work highlighted this way was a huge honour and increased the value of the experience tremendously. It essentially transformed me from a guest to a VIP.
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Melanie Jones at Frontières

I love pitching, especially in person, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to pitch my upcoming feature project Switchback to a room full of professionals along with a panel of jurors. I was given immediate feedback and asked questions that allowed me to go into greater detail on my story and understand what resonated with people. I received excellent feedback and encouragement and then had 28 one-on-one meetings with industry people from around the world. Many expressed interest in reading my script, producing it or even funding it. Even those who could not “do business” with me (because they only fund European filmmakers for example) took the time to come by my table and tell me they were intrigued by my script and looked forward to seeing the film when finished. Several meetings allowed me to talk about other projects I have in development or about my previous feature film FSM. Among the most exciting meetings I took were with the head of Fox Searchlight, the lead programmer for the Tribeca Film Festival and several prestigious international distributors and agents whose films have been nominated for Oscars or premiered at TIFF or Cannes Film Festival.
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Melanie Jones’ Switcback table for Pitching at Frontières

A particular highlight for me was popping over to Fantasia Fest to see a short film program in which one of my fellow FODS winners had a film playing. In a weekend filled with possibility, it was inspiring to see something concrete that grounded what we were hoping and dreaming for in a tangible reality. A great reminder of why we are working so hard to pitch our films.
 
I also felt so warmly welcomed by the Frontières staff and programming team – they made such an effort to make us feel like we belonged there and our projects mattered – this is no small thing in a competitive industry! Simply by virtue of being in the company we were in, and treated like professionals, I felt a surge of confidence in my project and in my future as a writer/director not just in Canada, but Internationally.
Melanie M. Jones

2016 From Our Dark Side Winner Gada Jane’s Tips on Attending Frontières the Second Time Around

The Frontières Co-Productions Market is a small and very friendly genre film market that takes place in Montreal as part of the Fantasia Film Festival. I’ve attended for the past two years, first as one of the 2016 winners of the WIFTV From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition and then to pitch my film, Tricks, as part of the Directed by Women program. 20171024_153135

The market is designed to enable connections that facilitate genre film financing and North American-European Co-Productions. A number of successful projects have come through the pitching program including RAW,TURBO KID, LES AFFAMÉS, and the documentary 78/52 which have screened at various 3festivals including TIFF, Sundance, and Cannes.

At Frontières, the morning of the first day is devoted to pitches. Each project has 8 minutes to pitch to an audience of financiers, sales agents, producers, production companies, distributors and other types of film humans. After this, there are lots of meetings. As part of the Directed by Women section for projects in early stages, I pitched along with this year’s From Our Dark Side winners at a smaller pitch session the next day and then we began our meetings.

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L – R – Samantha Loney, Melanie Jones, Mariel Scammell, & Gada Jane

The market is set up really nicely to be a frame for meeting people. This means your experience will depend a lot on what are looking for and whom you meet. Pitching projects are set up with their own tables where they have a whole series of 20-minute meetings. There are also lounges in the building,  restaurants, and coffee shops nearby where you can have more meetings. Also, everyday there is a cocktail party where you can continue to meet people and then people usually gather at the Irish Embassy.

Frontières is a remarkably pleasant film market. The people who run it work hard, are very helpful, and set a quite delightful tone for the event. It’s relaxed. It’s Canadian. It’s genre. This all comes together to mean that Frontières is mostly full of people who just want to make cool things. Not everyone has the same definitions of cool or fun or worthwhile or even marketable, but it’s a great place to go to find people who share yours.

By: Gada Jane

If you would like to find out more information on the From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition click here.

An Interview with “A Better Man” Filmmaker Attiya Khan

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*Content warning: domestic abuse*

Reel Causes, one of WIFTV’s community partners, is screening the NFB documentary A Better Man. This landmark film is the story of a woman, Attiya Khan, who confronts her abusive ex-partner, Steve. Through the candid conversations they share 22 years later, we learn about their respective experiences throughout the relationship.

WIFTV was offered the opportunity to provide Khan with some questions via email, and we were happy to reach out. Given the subject matter, it is not difficult to understand why she would feel more comfortable responding to questions over email. This Vulture article explains it in greater detail.

Join Reel Causes for the Vancouver premiere of A Better Man on November 23rd at SFU Woodward’s (149 West Hastings Street) at 7 pm. There will be a panel following the screening and an active listener will be present.

As you are not a traditional filmmaker and we’ve read that Steve took some convincing to be involved, we’re curious how this film ended up getting made.  

I have wanted to make a documentary about my experience for a long time. After years of running into Steve, and eventually talking with him about why it was important to me to make a documentary, he agreed, but not without careful consideration; we knew that this commitment would be difficult for both of us. I had a friend film our first conversation, and wasn’t exactly sure what the next steps would be. I eventually searched for a producer, and we worked very closely to define my goals, navigate the requirements for financing a film, and ultimately manage the overwhelming experience of making a film about myself. It was almost a five-year process, and the commitment from everyone involved was immense.

Earlier this year, WIFTV was thrilled to share the news about the NFB initiative to expand its gender equity plan to include other key creative positions (i.e., cinematographer, composer, and screenwriter). Most of the crew for A Better Man is comprised of women. What process was involved in deciding on the crew?   

Sarah Polley introduced me to my producer, Christine Kleckner, who was a very close collaborator throughout the making of this film. We very carefully established a team that would be respectful of my process, and respectful towards women. We spent some time creating a demo to discuss our creative ideas and really get to know each other. My producer, co-director and cinematographer are seasoned documentarians, and they knew how intense the process would be for me, and were incredibly supportive. There were a number of women that were essential, but the entire crew really was a dream team. Further to that, my outreach team – Steph Guthrie (Impact Producer) and Janette Luu (Strategy and Communications) are fiercely driven to push this project. My instinct will always be to work with women first, but I think it’s important to be open to all of the possibilities.

Throughout the film, the responses seem genuine and candid. Was there ever a time when having a camera present impacted your behaviour? Or Steve’s behaviour?

We were both aware of the camera, although there were some moments where we immediately focused on each other and the camera was the last thing we were thinking about. But there were times when Steve struggled to find his words, or I was thinking about how far I might want to take a conversation, and our awareness of being filmed would start to infiltrate. But our cinematographer, Iris Ng, was exceptional at reading these signals, and would make decisions that gave us the space we needed, while really maintaining that feeling of intimacy and authentic feeling of the mood and space that we were in.

[We liked this question Reel Causes used on their blog and decided to ask Khan for her input.] This film is unlike anything we’ve seen before, bringing healing and insight for women – and men, as we watch your courage in meeting your former abuser, as well his voluntary act of taking responsibility for the violence. How do you think Vancouverites – victims, abusers and allies – can work towards healing?

I think one thing we can all do is recognize that people can’t be categorized so neatly as that. We are whole human beings and our identities and histories are complex. People who use violence aren’t just abusers – there are many other characteristics and actions that make up who they are, and many of them have also experienced violence at some point in their lives. Many people who may identify as allies, and some of those of us who’ve experienced violence, have also engaged in abusive behaviour (physically, emotionally or otherwise) at some point in our lives. As a culture, we are getting closer to understanding in theory that people who use violence are not monsters but our friends, family members, colleagues and neighbours. But I think when actually faced with the possibility that someone we care about has used violence, or that we ourselves have engaged in behaviour that hurt somebody else, we still default to very black-and-white responses that validate the “monster” narrative, by either dismissing the possibility (“I’m a good person, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone!”) or by ostracizing the person. I hope A Better Man helps people understand that there are other options available to us besides ignoring and ostracization when we encounter stories about violence happening in our own communities.

How has making this film impacted you?

I really do feel like I’ve started to heal, which I didn’t expect from all of this. This goes beyond a sense of relief – I physically feel better. I feel less burdened and have less anxiety when I’m in new spaces. I’m literally breathing better! I got what I needed from this, and the strength and joy that I feel entering the next phase of my life has a lot do with making A Better Man.

While this film has the potential to be triggering for audiences, it is an incredibly important story. What advice would you give to those who are reluctant to attend a screening?

This is a difficult film for audience members, especially for people who have experienced violence. This is why our team has made an effort to ensure there are counselors available at as many screenings as possible, to listen and offer support to audience members. People who have experienced violence know what is best for them, and I hope they listen to their instincts about whether or not to attend. If they do attend, I encourage them to think about what steps they can take to make sure they have the support they need during and after watching – whether it’s some quiet time alone afterward, bringing a close friend with them to the screening, or anything else they need.

Words by Brianna Girdler and Jennifer Foden

An Interview with “The Breadwinner” Director Nora Twomey at the Spark Animation 2017: Film Festival

From left to right: Marge Dean, Co-President of Women in Animation, and Nora Twomey, Director of Breadwinner

Written by: Ping-Ping Wong & Dechen Khangkar

Nora Twomey is an Irish animator and filmmaker. Her company Cartoon Saloon, has been Oscar-nominated twice for its short film The Secret of Kells in 2009 and its feature The Song Of The Sea in 2014.

We caught up with Twomey at the Spark Animation 2017: Film Festival where she was awarded the Women in Animation Diversity Award – an accolade highlighting and celebrating organizations and artists who are making a positive contribution to diversity in filmmaking. As women of color, it was deeply encouraging to see this much-needed beacon of light in an industry dominated by white, male filmmakers.

Upon arrival at the Scotiabank Theatre in Vancouver, there was a snaking sold-out crowd pressing their way into the theatre. Twomey’s “The Breadwinner” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2017 and counts Angelina Jolie as an executive producer. Based on the bestselling novel by Deborah Ellis, “The Breadwinner” is a moving story about a young girl in Afghanistan masquerading as a boy to provide for her family. During the powerful film, we could feel the outrage bristling from the audience followed by people reaching for their tissues. Covering issues such as misogyny, state abuse and children in war zones, “The Breadwinner” was a film that will stay with us and linger in our conversations long after the lights in the theatre went down.

Interview with Nora Twomey

Do you have any advice for women who want to join the animation industry?

Getting into a good college is the key really. It’s not necessarily the college itself; it’s the people that you meet. The people that I met in college I still work with to this day. So those relationships can be extremely important. So my best advice is to go to college and get a degree as well.

Your film is about adversity and overcoming challenges. I was wondering what was the greatest challenge you faced when making this film and how you overcame it?

I had lots of challenges making this film and certainly, one of them was not being able to go to Afghanistan. In order to overcome that I listened to people and listened to as many Afghani people as I could – making sure that their voices became part of the story and that made things quite simple for me.

So I think it’s important to look for the universal in the story as well, finding things that people can identify with and just have compassion for the characters.

It is amazing that you can encourage other women of color to make films like this. Just wondering what changes you would like to see in the industry – in terms of diversity in animation?

I would love to see a level playing field where it wasn’t an issue and we didn’t need to have a quota system. I think we do (need a quota system) in order to reach some kind of balance in a 100-year-old industry that’s always been slanted in one direction. We do need to take action to correct it. For my children’s generation, I would like it not to be an issue anymore and have it more to do with making films about what’s in your heart I guess.

The story has such a meaningful message. Are there certain issues that resonate with you?

As a storyteller, I evolved. With this one, it was such a big challenge and I feel like my life changed since I became a mother and it made me more interested in kids in different parts of the world and in other mothers’ struggles. That’s the kind of perspective I came at this film with. The idea of family is certainly one that is really interesting to me at the moment and the idea of having not particularly happy endings but to convey a complexity in our storytelling that acknowledges the complexity of conflict.

From Our Dark Side Winner, Bridget Canning, Talks about Projects and Pitching at the 2017 Frontières Market

Less than a week after the 2017 Frontières International Co-Production Market in June, Bridget Canning was listed on IndieWires “The Best Horror Films Yet to Be Made” List. Here is what she had to say about her time at Frontières.

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Frontières was amazing. I left feeling much more confident in my ability as a writer and storyteller and with more “tools” for getting my work out there. Pitching was nerve-wracking, but overall, the experience was worth it – especially as the pitch session worked as an ice-breaker for meetings. Many meetings went from discussing my project to talking about stories themselves; it was great to get to the heart of why people work in film.  I left Frontières with many contacts I feel would be a pleasure to collaborate with.

If I was to do it again, I think I would spend more time researching participants to get a closer “fit” as to what we are both looking for. And I would gladly do it again.

        — Bridget Canning; Author

To find out more about the From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition click here.

Laura Adkin Reflects on Her Experience as a WIFTV Actor Career Mentee

When I was three years old I stood on stage during my pre-school Christmas nativity play (where I played an Angel) and looked out into the crowd – I was hooked. I knew this is what I wanted to do. A lot has happened since then.  

Laura Adkin

Laura Adkin

For the past 15 years, I have been working in the film and television industry, starting out as a wide-eyed actor with really big dreams (not all of those dreams came true). I’ve had major victories and hit major road bumps, but it wasn’t until I discovered mentorship that I realized I didn’t have to go it alone.

Nine years ago, when I was living in LA, I decided to become a member of Women in Film Los Angeles. Through that organization, I participated in a mentorship program with Elaine Hendrix, who helped guide me in the direction I wanted my career to move. It was inspiring and eye opening and had a huge impact on me.

Years later, when I was back in Vancouver, I was desperate for that same sort of mentorship opportunity. Luckily for me, Krista Magnusson, seeing the lack of female actor mentorship in Vancouver, decided to start a program through Women in Film and Television Vancouver. And I was lucky enough to be selected for the inaugural round of the WIFTV Actor Mentorship Program.

My mentor was actress Pascale Hutton. She became an amazing source of information and support, as well as a great sounding board. The program not only gave me the opportunity to have a successful and strong woman to look up to and ask questions, but it also forced me to look at my career in a different way. What did I want? What are my goals? Where do I see myself in five years? The results were career changing to say the least. I had always dabbled in content creating (writing, producing, etc.), but the more I talked with Pascale and the more I did my own soul searching, I realized: not only did I want more than acting – I needed more.

A part of my creative brain wasn’t being accessed and I knew I needed to do something about it. I wrote a short film, which I starred in and produced. I wrote it and produced it within my six- month mentorship program and that set me on a path I never would have imagined. In one of our meetings, Pascale told me I wouldn’t go the typical route of an actor, that my path would be different and I should embrace that. And that’s what I did.  

Since being a WIFTV mentee, I have Directed and written three short films, pitched features to networks, written a pilot, won grants, been accepted into programs, won awards and now even teach at a prestigious acting school. This program was amazing on so many levels and was invaluable to my career. It also showed me the power of mentorship and, like Kevin Spacey said, “If you’ve done well, it’s your obligation to spend a good portion of your time sending the elevator back down.” For the rest of my career I will send the elevator back down and help whoever wants to get on it.

 

Samantha Loney, From Our Dark Side Winner, Dishes about the Highlights (and more) of the 2017 Frontières Market

We asked Samantha Loney some questions about taking her project Married to Murder to the 2017 Frontières International Co-production Market and Networking Platform and here is what she had to say. 

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What were your Top 3 Highlights from your time at the Frontières Market? 

1 – Seeing a rough cut scene from George A. Romero’s Road of the Dead!!!

2 – Getting the chance to pitch my project alongside some amazing ladies and be berated in front of an audience by an amazing group of judges. Was a great learning experience.

3 – The Femme Fatales ladies only gathering was amazing. It was a safe space to discuss our period cramps, and how to overthrow the patriarchy. Stay tuned world.

What was one of the lessons learned through the experience?

Grey Nuns Residence is a great place to stay because you’re a block away from all the events at Frontières, but is it worth it when you have to lay awake at night dressed in nothing but your own stank? For lazy people like me yes, but warning to future participants Grey Nuns has no air conditioning.

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If you had to pick only one, tell us about your favourite moment.

The farewell dinner. After spending four days of talking we got to eat some amazing food, and dance away all the calories from the wine we had consumed all week.

What impact do you feel being at Frontières Market had on your project?

I’ve made quite a few connections, and have been in talks with a director, which I hope works out well so we can take Married to Murder back to Frontières next year to beg for some money on the big stage!

If you would like to learn more about From Our Dark Side, click here.